Palone. Beer surprise or how to cause an international PR mini-crisis.
Yesterday have been passing by a wine store and I noticed a huge sign “Palone” on it. It reminded me of a story from beginning of my stay in India that I would like to share with you.
I’m really a beer fan and particularly fond of dark beers (not ale, stout or porter, but a Czech type of dark beer, like my favorite Velkopopovický Kozel Dark). Poland breweries specialize rather in light kinds of beers, mostly lagers and pilsners, but one of the eldest breweries – Okocim – released some time ago a beer called Palone. A dark, smooth beer, with slightly coffee/caramel flavor. That was it – I didn’t have to go to Czech Republic to bring myself a couple of bottles of my favorite beverage…
It was about a year ago, maybe slightly more, when I was still relatively new in this country, but already fed up with Kingfisher, when I entered a wine store to pick up a can and spotted a well known and beloved colors and design of my favorite Polish beer. I couldn’t believe at first – it’s not our biggest brand, not a local specialty and definitely – not something that would sell well in India….
I didn’t hesitate long though and I bought a can on spot.
In the evening back at home I prepared myself a book, music and a nice beer glass to properly enjoy this little forgotten pleasure. I usually particularly enjoy the moment of pouring beer into the glass, observing how it forms a nice thick layer of foam and then looking through the glass to observe how the light glitters in the reddish-brown liquid.
Imagine than, how the broad smile on my face (at the moment I heard this characteristic “Psst” of an openning can) turns slowly through to a whim of disbelief to a sheer disappointment (when the fluid pouring into my glass appears to be a light, pale piss coloured joke of a beer) and finally – anger.
After checking online if I wasn’t sold a counterfeit I realized, that this is Carlsberg (who owns Polish brewery Okocim) deliberate strategy. ““Okocim Palone, a Polish beer carrying less than 8% alcohol. It will be positioned as a strong beer against UB’s Kingfisher Strong and SABMiller’s Haywards 5000.””. I say WHAT? And they are still shameless enough to claim that “It has been awarded the Superior Taste Award 2005 by International Taste & Quality Institute (iTQi), an independent organization that assesses and awards the best flavors in the food and drinks categories” an award clearly granted to what the original Palone is – a smooth, dark beer with only 5.5% alcohol content! Nice first Carlsberg attempt to conquer Indian market!
A furious consumer was born in me. I started ragging. I wrote a post on my polish blog and sent the link to PR executive at Carlsberg Danemark, to inquire, why are they cheating the consumers?
I pointed out two questions:
-> why did they choose a brand known only locally to enter the Indian market?
-> and why – doing that – they replaced the good original content with something totally else, without even giving any hint to the consumer?
Here’s the answer I received:
Thanks for your mail. And your passion for our Polish brand, now also represented in India – actually it was the first brand we launched.
You are right, it is not the Palone you know from your home country. It is much stronger, and the reason is that Indian people prefer stronger beers.
Hopefully you will also get used to the Indian version of Palone.
Best regards/Med venlig hilsen
Jens Peter Skaarup
Media Relations Director
Clearly not satisfied, I wrote back, saying that I know Indian preferences, but it still doesn’t really make sense still, as it would be easier to come up with a new brand or adopt a brand of similar features (not to look far – Okocim Mocne, a strong beer from the same brand portfolio) to achieve the same effect.
This time reply came from Indian PR executive.
Dear Mr Jacek,
Thank you for your email dated Sep 24, 2008 addressed to my colleague Jens Peter Skaarup in Copenhagen.
Carlsberg is a global company which produces quality products in each of the markets that it operates in. In India there is a clear preference for Strong Beers and we did an extensive search within our portfolio for an appropriate brand for the India market. Okocim Palone is a beer that enjoys a “SMOOTH STRONG TASTE” and this is the key characteristic that we felt could give us the edge in this market, since most Indian beers are of poor quality and definitely not SMOOTH. It was with this thought that we launched Okocim Palone to offer Indian consumers a “ SMOOTH STRONG TASTE”. Most global companies operating in various markets of the world pick up a key characteristic of their global brands and ensure that is taken to each and every market that they operate in. Further the visual effect of the Palone label was extremely appealing to consumers in India.
We do hope you will get used to the “SMOOTH STRONG TASTE” of Okocim Palone and enjoy it more and more.
Thank you once again for the very passionate feedback and look forward to your continued patronage of our quality products.
South Asia Breweries Pvt Ltd
( Part of the Carlsberg Group)
So… you can shorten a common brand characteristic of both a dark beer with 5.5% alcohol volume and a golden lager kicking with nearly 8% and distinguishable alcohol flavor to “SMOOTH STRONG TASTE”
I wrote back, I’m still not satisfied with answer and in the same time – published the whole conversation on my Polish blog. This time a Polish executive wrote to me, repeating exactly the same arguments (I won’t copy it here, as it is in Polish).
Clearly – Carlsberg though, they could get away with it by using and unknown brand and play the card of “European origins” and “international awards”, while selling a clearly Indian product, more or less the same as Kingfisher Strong.
But it seems they forgotten we live in a flat world and that even in India there might be some Poles, and that even in India – there’s access to Internet and that both these facts can land them up in troubles…
Now in Polish Google search still, when you type Okocim Palone, my three (1,2,3) blog entries would come up in top ten results. And it had over a thousand hits since then. Luckily for Carlsberg, non major media caught up on the subject, but that could easily have happened.
So – if you are a PR executive – be aware of infuriated consumers-bloggers. They are not easy to tame, and this entry is just another proof!
The biggest irony of it all, is the fact, that – although I never tried – it seems like you can still buy Palone countefeit in India, while in Poland – as a too niche product – it has been abandoned.
Just like in old Grasham’s law – Bad beer drives out good…